October 18, 2015 — Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel Reading from St. Mark is often cited as a stewardship story, and it is heavy with meaning in that regard. One of the Lord’s favorite topics was service, the motivation and readiness to put our very selves at the benefit of those around us, our parishes and communities. All of our readings speak to the idea of servitude, especially how Jesus served us and all through many generations.
Isaiah prophesied the coming of Christ centuries before it occurred. The First Reading from Isaiah concentrates on the suffering, the sacrifice, and the subservience to which the Messiah would be subjected. What Jesus did for us could not be put more clearly than it is in this scriptural passage: “…through his suffering my servant will justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.” We are justified before God through Jesus Christ. Therefore, when Jesus calls on us to serve, whether it is serving Him or those around us, it is a dramatic and profound admonition. It is not something we can or should ignore.
In the Letter to the Hebrews within the midst of today’s Second Reading is this statement, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” The root Greek word for “sympathize” as used here meant “to suffer along with.” Jesus became man to share in our suffering, the kinds of feelings and hurts and trauma we may experience. Not only did Jesus live as a human, He continues “to suffer along with” each of us on our life journeys. The reading continues and uses the phrases “approach the throne of grace to receive mercy… and timely help.” In Jesus’ time rabbis taught that God had two thrones, one of mercy and one of judgment. Jesus combines these two thrones into one “throne of grace.” Yes, we are judged, but it is a merciful judgment that provides us with hope. That is why and how we can willingly serve the Lord and others.
Earlier in Mark’s Gospel it is reported that Jesus gave the name Boanerges to his Apostles John and John’s brother James. According to our Catholic Bible that name means “Sons of Thunder.” In our Gospel for this 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, it is James and John, who in their boldness ask the Lord if they can be seated to His left and right in the glory of Heaven, and who precipitate Jesus’ eloquent stewardship answer to their question. “Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is the same ransom referred to in our First Reading from Isaiah.
Jesus is making a deeper and more insightful point to James and John, His Apostles, and us. The Lord wants us to know and understand that it is sacrifice that is needed, not self glory. It is interesting that according to most scholars who have studied the Apostles, and it is reported thusly in Holy Scripture (Acts 12: 1-2), St. James was the first of all the Twelve Apostles to be martyred. We are being told that we need to examine our motivations for everything we do, including serving others. Is it because we love? Is it because we expect a reward? Is it because we want people to think good of us? Our motivation needs to be the humble desire to serve, to be a disciple and follower of the Lord through service as a sign of our love. Love and stewardship are interchangeable.